Help me email
September 7, 2016 5:20 AM   Subscribe

I've recently been switched to Outlook at work, and the capability to download to Thunderbird, my mail client of choice for ten years, is turned off. My email is now out of control. Hope me.

I am wondering how to effectively manage my email in this new system. I have the desktop client, but something about the change has made me entirely abandon my old organization system, which was lots and lots of folders. I'm missing emails, not replying promptly, and my inbox is a right mess. I am a professor and receive about 50 emails a day and this will increase over time, so I need to get a grip on this now. About half of them are bacn (journal table of contents, calls for papers, listserv stuff) and the other half are important (students asking me to do stuff, collaborators asking me to do stuff or telling me they did stuff, travel arrangements, etc.) I get a few spam messages a day but at least I usually delete those promptly.

It's time for a new way to manage my mail from within Outlook. What tools or tricks are enabled either by the software or by your own methods (either technical or behavioral like "only look at it during specific times each day" which incidentally does not work well for my job) that can be implemented within Outlook? How can I get my email groove back? I probably never had it to begin with, but the folders really don't work well now because they seem to negatively impact my search capability and they're not as prominent in the interface so I'm just not using them anymore.
posted by sockermom to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You can basically replicate your elaborate folder system in Outlook; it's actually not too terrible. You may also find that it's easier to have the reading pane below the email list rather than next to it.

Here are some "tricks" that are fairly common, but perhaps you're not aware of?...
1. RULES. You can generate rules that pre-sort your mail into those folders; that should cut down on the more auto-generated emails in your actual inbox. You can set them by sender/receiver/topic etc, and get some sorting through that.

2. Colors. You can also use colors for high value emails. (for examples all emails from my boss are bright blue, and all emails from his boss are red. it's pretty hard to miss if I'm scanning through my email)

3. Search all mail. usually if you run a search it only looks in the current folder; however, you can usually click on the flashing yellow tool bar and get into advanced search which searches all your folders

4. unread mail. In one of the side folders there is a folder called 'search Folders' if you open this it has an 'unread mail' folder that grabs all unread mail, no matter the folder and brings it into one place. occasionally useful if your unread mail got buried a few days ago.

(I get close to 200-300 emails a day, of which 50-60 actually require my attention in some way, but I need information in the others fairly regularly. I probably have 50 rules that sort my mail before it gets to me; and 3 colors for notable people/topics that I don't want to miss)
posted by larthegreat at 5:54 AM on September 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

I work in a college. I am not a professor. But I also routinely get 50 or so emails/day.

I don't like "the rules" in Outlook because I keep my inbox as my chronological to do list. It's just how I function. So, anything in my inbox is something that needs to be addressed in some manner. Once the matter is fully resolved (and some things for students live in my inbox for a week or so), I move it into a folder where things get filed in case they come up again. I just find it easier to manage this way so things don't get by me.

Once, however, an issue is resolved or I've read through something, I put it in a folder. I sort my folders by my faculty -- each of my faculty has a folder so anything they send me goes in there. I have another folder for adjuncts and same thing, alphabetical order. I have a folder for each dean and under each dean is a folder for their assistants. I lump all the bookstore matters together in one folder and under that each book rep from each publishing company has a folder. General student inquires go into a department folder. And folders for my graduate student fellows include one for all their regular emails and one for each semesters' timesheets.

You'll have to decide how you want your folders set up and how you want to organize your own email, but the first step in my mind would be to just start creating folders and start putting stuff you don't need right now but should keep for a while in them. I personally keep emails for two years because the number of times I've had something crop up for a student that occurred years prior is not as uncommon as it should be. But I also can't keep everything for forever, so about three or four times a year I go through and delete any emails from more than two years ago and it clears out a bunch.
posted by zizzle at 7:20 AM on September 7, 2016

Rules don't have to move emails to a folder. They can be used to just put a certain color or category on any email that meets the parameters.
posted by soelo at 10:28 AM on September 7, 2016

Can you give more detail about what's preventing you from working the way you did in Thunderbird? Do you know how to right click on an email and get some commonly used commands? Do you have your folders on the left, inbox in the middle, reading pane on the right?
You do use drag and drop, right?

Another option would be to set up Thunderbird... you say that option's been taken away from you, but there are ways... either installed on your computer, in a VM, in a portable setup, on another machine... Probably best to stick with Outlook if you use calendaring, msg'ing, etc.
posted by at at 11:31 AM on September 7, 2016

Well, I'm not sure exactly what it is - I'm not being prevented from using folders like I did in Thunderbird, but now that I'm on a new system I am no longer using them. Honestly, I think it's because the folders list is much shorter than it used to be given that there are all these useless links directly below the folder list (Mail, Calendars, Contacts, Tasks, Notes, all in big font and none that I actually need or use). I do have the left, middle, right setup described; I miss how the email was below my inbox in Thunderbird a lot, and I really miss being able to see all of my folders in one long list - I have 27 folders. I can see them all in Thunderbird without scrolling and only 14 of them in Outlook (including several that were hidden from me in Thunderbird, like autodeleted spam, which is really annoying because it's always bolded now in Outlook).

I'll mess with Rules and see if that helps. It would be very good for me to have all student emails shuffled off to one folder, for example, and all bacn filed away into another for viewing when I have time.
posted by sockermom at 11:50 AM on September 7, 2016

I have the useless links you list at the bottom of my window and my folders are all listed on the left side. In the View tab, there is a button called Folder Pane where you can have it only show the ones you want. Right click on a folder and select Show in Favorites to see if it will pop to the top of the left-side pane.
posted by soelo at 12:18 PM on September 7, 2016

the capability to download to Thunderbird, my mail client of choice for ten years, is turned off.

If I were in your shoes, I'd turn it back on again.

Outlook is a fractal of suck.
posted by flabdablet at 12:21 PM on September 7, 2016

There's a good chance that you just need to click the 'ellipsis" next to the big bold items at the bottom, and choose folders.
posted by TuxHeDoh at 12:50 PM on September 7, 2016

A few easy fixes before you do anything else...

To get your reading pane below your email, go to "View" at the top, and in the middle of the ribbon you should see "Reading Pane" you can flip this to "bottom". I prefer this view, others prefer the side by side view.

As to seeing more folders, I think that's more of a screen resolution issue... I can see 30-40 folders in my navigation pane on the left hand side, fewer if I make my emails window smaller. To get rid of the bolded folders you don't' use, you can go into View-> Navigation pane Options and click off the ones you don't use. (I only have mail and calendar checked, and I changed the font on those to be smaller so they take up less space)
posted by larthegreat at 2:32 PM on September 7, 2016

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